Old and New England forged beer legend
Added: Wednesday, May 15th 2019
Geary’s Pale Ale, one of the great pioneering beers of the American craft revolution, has been saved from possible disappearance and is now available in Britain as well as the U.S.
In the 1980s David Geary (above, with English barley malt) trained at a number of British breweries then returned home to open his own plant in Portland, Maine, with his wife Karen. In the early 1980s there were just 13 micro-breweries -- as they were then called – in the whole of the United States. They were based mainly in California and the Pacific North-west and there was none in New England.
In 1983 the Gearys decided they wanted to make world-class beer for local consumption. David travelled to Scotland where he was taken under the wing of David Maxwell Stuart, laird of Traquair House in the Scottish Lowlands alongside the River Tweed (below|). Traquair is Scotland’s oldest inhabited house: Mary Queen of Scots stayed there and Prince Charles Edward Stuart visited to raise support for his doomed attempt to restore the Stuarts to the throne. The house also has a small brewery where the world-acclaimed Traquair House Ale is produced.
Maxwell Stuart introduced David Geary to several other brewers. As a result David brewed and researched at half a dozen breweries from the Scottish Highlands to the South Coast of England where he developed a great love of classic pale ale.
When he returned he and Karen drew up a business plan and looked for a suitable site for a brewery. They were fortunate to hire as their brewer Alan Pugsley, an experienced British brewer who had trained with Peter Austin, known as the father of the British beer revolution who had opened one of the first micros at Ringwood in Hampshire in the 1970s. Alan went on run Shipyard Brewing, also in Portland.
The Gearys with Pugsley started brewing in the autumn of 1986 and the first pints of Pale Ale were poured in December. The 4.5 per cent beer is brewed with English pale malt, with crystal and chocolate grains, and is hopped with Cascade, Mount Hood, German Tettnang and English Fuggles. It was a revelation to consumers in New England who had previously had only mass market lagers to drink.
Geary’s Pale Ale became a brewing icon, inspiring scores of Americans to open small craft breweries. But by the second decade of the new century there was intense competition among brewers in New England and changing tastes among beer lovers.
Between 2011 and 2015, sales of Pale Ale dropped an alarming 34 per cent at a time when Geary was struggling with the death of Karen. He was faced with the choice of closing the brewery or finding a buyer who shared his vision of good beer.
A saviour appeared in the form of Alan Lapoint (below), an experienced businessman based in New England who shared David Geary’s family values as well as a love of beer.
In 2017, Alan Lapoint took over the brewery and said: “My family and I are thrilled at the opportunities and challenges that face us and I can wait to put Geary’s back at the heart of Maine’s brewing class.”
Alan Lapoint and his team have spent two years overhauling the brewery and adding a range of new beers, including – inevitably – an IPA, along with a double IPA and lager which can all be sampled in a new taproom.
But Geary’s Pale Ale, with the famous New England lobster label, remains the heart-beat of the brewery. A copper-red beer in the Burton tradition, it comes as something of a shock to drinkers used to a massive citrus kick from modern pale ales and IPAs. Spicy and floral hops dominate the aroma with rich biscuit malt and cinnamon notes. Smooth malt on the palate is balanced by bitter and spicy hops with herbal notes. The finish is bittersweet with spices, biscuit malt and bitter hops. It’s beautifully balanced and allows malt to express itself alongside hops.
The beer is available in the UK: see www.beer52.com/shop